When the newly appointed UK Prime Minister first appeared she stated that ‘Brexit means Brexit’ which begs the question: What then is Brexit?
The word was conceived to mean an exit of Britain (the UK really, but Ukxit didn’t catch on) from the European Union (EU). However it’s more complicated than that as the government have been busy running around trying to talk to everyone and seem to be trying to find a way of remaining in the European Single Market outside of the EU proper, to have a trading relationship without a commitment to political integration. Really the governments seems to want to establish a new EEA (European Economic Area) treaty, with some restrictions on free movement and some decrease in European regulations. Essentially this is what the Tories have always wanted, a genuine two speed Europe. However, this may be difficult to achieve, at least before 2020 (when the UK has to have a general election and a new government) because getting the institutions of the EU and the other member states of the EEA will be difficult. The EU has enough problems at the moment and appears happy to let things bumble on, which really the UK seems fairly happy to do as well with no clear answer in sight, suggesting that Brexit may not happen, because the politics is difficult, the economic risks of a bad deal are perhaps a lot greater than the economic costs of doing nothing. Yet the vote happened, so ‘Brexit’ has come to mean the referendum itself, seemingly without wider implications.
A simple spectra of views of the UK in the EU can be imagined, with the hardcore Euro-sceptics, the UKIPers, the Brexitiers, at one end advocating the UK completely withdrawing from the EU and at the other end the Europhiles, the EU integrationists, with the vast majority of people somewhere in between. So with such a simple spectra asking the question ‘EU leave or not?’ was essentially, ‘Do you agree with the Brexitiers?’. The answer, by 52-48 was yes and the Brexitiers won the vote. However it would be wrong to suggest that a majority of the electorate do agree with the Brexitier position.
Wrong, because no simple spectra for views on the EU exists. Like most things really it’s more complicated, imagine the spectra spread around into a circle, or even a sphere, to consist of multiple spectra, based on such concepts as democracy, economics, immigration and identity. As such, especially in referenda, where often a different question is answered to the actual one put. This is not to suggest that referenda are always a bad thing. The electorate has not been asked for it’s views on the EU (the last vote was 1975), so a question more like ‘Do you thing the UK should have a closer relationship or a looser relationship with the EU?’, would perhaps give a more representative result, I speculate than no-one would be surprised by a 75%+ vote for ‘less EU’ and I would not have been troubled by my choice at all. Though such a vote would again not produce by itself a clear UK EU strategy, but it would be more indicative of what people actually want.
It’s not a simple spectra as the Brexitier camp is itself very divided. One group are the hardcore market fundamentalists (more capital), wanting lower regulations, lower productivity, lower tax and low wages. opposed to the Social Democrats (more democracy, more labour), wanting higher regulations, higher wages, higher taxes and higher productivity. Either system could work, but a complete withdrawal from the EU, would lead to a fight between these Brexit groups, where no compromise was possible that wouldn’t lead to a much weaker economy than exists now and for these systems to work there would need to be a majority consensus for them to actually work. In any case our FPTP electoral system, favouring two major left-right aligned blocs, would fail to allow such a fundamental shift in the economy either way, because international trade and relations are important in the inter-dependent world the UK exists in, doing things substantially differently to the rest of the world would be challenging. Well, the UK could be truly isolationist, but this would entail lots of things like everyone becoming vegan, giving up personal transport and completely changing our lifestyles, although off-grid lifestyle choices are growing in popularity.
However, the Brexit wasn’t really about the EU at all, I have argued that it was simple a protest vote against the political establishment. The establishment and democracy has failed in the UK. A two party system works, when the parties in control are regularly swapped to maintain a balance and elected representatives are free to ignore party dictats (the whipped vote). A balance should be created that prevents leading towards extreme ideologies, that don’t work very well for the majority.
Essentially we can view economies as interactions between three hostile powers, Labour, Capital and the State. So traditionally, the Conservative party advocate more Capital, while the Labour party advocate more power for Labour, but both parties want the State (themselves when they are in power) to work in different ways.
The problem is that the balance of power broke down in the mid 1980s. In the 1970s, Labour and the Trade Unions were too powerful, choking the UK economy. Democracy triumphed in 1979, when the Conservatives won and set about reducing Labour and increasing Capital. However by around 1985, they had gone to far in supporting capital, but the Tories won the 1987 election? and again in 1992??, Democracy had failed, or at least the Labour party had failed. In a two party system, both parties need to be strong for democracy to work. The UK now really does need a strong Socialist, just to bring some balance back, but the Labour party are currently split over this. Well sadly Labour didn’t have many Socialists left in the parliamentary party to choose from, which is the problem they are making a fuss about at the moment.
Globalisation has compounded this problem, rather than been a panacea of free and fair trade. Market fundamentalist governments appear across the globe, trade agreements lock in the power of Capital at the expense of the State. We are now in a world where correction is harder and harder to achieve. Harder in a world where the advocates of capital control the main stream media, denying the wider electorate the chance to be informed and thus able to vote for balance, political debate is now framed solely by the effect on capital. We live in a world of no real economic growth as the drivers of the economy, the working and middle class, and the state itself are heavily in debt to capital, there is no money to fund growth, to support new innovative enterprise. Capital has no means of giving money to Labour or the State because that is not it’s job, it’s the job of Labour and the State to do that!
Essentially, everyone has the idea that something is very wrong with the world economy, but this opposition to the market fundamentalist establishment (the neo-liberals) is divided. In the US, Trump is a phenomena, riding this tide of discontent, in spite of him being a really offensive individual and a class A idiot, it’s like the people are screaming ‘Any change at all, we can’t carry on like this’, as the UK did with Brexit.
So, how does all relate the the EU? The EU itself is perceived both as a strong armer for Capital, and as a strong armer for regulation (but at an EU (inter-state) and not state level). It’s perceived as being unable to do anything well for 28 diverse states. So objections to it are valid whether you are a market fundamentalist or not.
So, a hard Brexit won’t work, but neither will an EEA fudge. It seems that the best strategy is simply remain in the EU, but veto pretty much everything, including trade deals such as CETA and TTIP, effectively having an EEA trade treaty, by the back door. However aren’t trade treaties perhaps the problem, as they reduce the power of the State and Labour and give to Capital? What we need is social democracy back, that can tame capital (and tame Labour and the State when needs be), rather than anything that increases the power of capital.
Perhaps the issue is mobility. States don’t move very much, if at all in modern times. People (Labour) can move, but is restricted and usually involved making a commitment to living, working and contributing to life in a new country. Capital is fairly unrestricted in it’s mobility, hence it can exploit States and Labour, by moving away from when times get harder. So, perhaps the next step forward to achieving economic balance is to restrict movement of capital. Capital will then have to make the same commitments to states, to it’s workforce as others in the trinity. Capital will then have to invest long-term, it’s monetary gains will then largely remain in a state and contribute back to local Labour. The question is whether to do this at an EU level, a UK level or a devolved level. Again I would argue for devolving this power, to restrict inward investment that it not committed to a a community, so it becomes part of that community. The Uk has been poor at ensuring a one-nation where prosperous regions give a helping hand to less prosperous areas to bring them up to speed. As the market demands change and technology develops, capital can switch industry, but remain geographically fixed to a locality. Is this what Brexit is, taking back control of capital to local communities, giving control to democracy, rather than centralised states or corporations.Is this how humanity will tackle growing inequality and the threats of climate change?